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25 November, 2015

Proud Puppy Raiser

Finch lying on grass

Guide Dog graduates ready to take over Martin Place

Katrina Wicks won't be able to hide her excitement as she proudly wears her heart on her sleeve and cheers on two-year-old Finch at a very special graduation ceremony next month.

Like all celebrations that mark the end of an important milestone, Finch, along with seven other graduates, will be looking his best with hair combed neatly into place and head held high.

But this is no ordinary graduation. It marks the end of intensive training for eight life-changing Guide Dogs that will soon be matched with a person who is blind or vision impaired.

As a special pre-Christmas treat, city workers are invited to witness the graduation which will be staged in Martin Place.

The spectacle is rarely held in a public venue and will be an opportunity to see the graduates receive their first harnesses, watch Guide Dog demonstrations and hear Guide Dog handlers talk about how their lives have been changed for the better. There will also be some very cute puppies enjoying themselves in a play pen.

The public will be joined by those who have been integral to the process of turning the bouncy puppies into Guide Dogs including instructors and volunteer Puppy Raisers like Katrina.

"It has taken more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each Guide Dog so the graduation will be a celebration of the work over the past two years to get these life-changing dogs to the all-important working stage of their life," Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO, Dr Graeme White said.

Before undergoing five months of intensive training at the Guide Dogs Centre, Finch lived with the Wicks family, who cared for him from eight-weeks until 14-months-old and taught him basic obedience and showered him with love and affection.

"I am beyond excited to see Finch graduate. I am so proud of him; he was such a good boy. When I saw him in training, I knew he was going to be a fantastic Guide Dog," Katrina said.

Finch was the first dog the family has ever cared for. "He was like another child and created a place in our hearts that we didn't have before," Katrina said.

"It was a great learning experience for the children, Peurla 12, Joulian 11, Miyah 9 and Sofiaa 4, as they began to understand what they were doing would help someone who is blind or vision impaired in the future. I wouldn't have changed this experience for the world," she said.

The Wicks family are now Puppy Raising 14-week-old Lucas for Guide Dogs.

Every day in Australia, 28 people are diagnosed with vision loss that cannot be corrected, including nine who will become blind.

"With the demand for Guide Dogs' services increasing due to growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of vision loss, we're incredibly grateful for the support we receive from the community," Dr White said.

"As we receive less than 2 per cent of our funding needs from the government, we rely on the public's generosity to fund our services, which are all provided free of charge to those who need them," Dr White said.

The graduation ceremony at Martin Place on Tuesday, December 8 is free for the public to attend and starts at 12pm.